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Doctors in Canada Can Now Prescribe a Trip to a National Park

The PaRx program aims to get patients outside to reap the proven health benefits of nature.

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This story comes from What You Missed, Outside’s daily digest of breaking news and topical perspectives from across the outdoor world. You can also get this news delivered to your email inbox six days a week by signing up for the What You Missed newsletter.

On January 31, Parks Canada, the agency that manages the country’s 38 national parks and ten national park reserves, announced it was joining the national nature prescription program, or PaRx, which sends patients into nature for at least two hours per week. The program works with doctors in British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

“We have a standard recommendation, based on the latest research, that patients spend at least two hours a week in nature and at least 20 minutes each time,” Dr. Melissa Lem, family physician and PaRx director, told GlobalNews.ca.

Prescribing trips to the outdoors is a growing trend for battling a wide range of conditions, from high blood pressure, to anxiety and depression. “There’s this huge body of research showing that nature time can improve all kinds of different physical and mental health conditions, from diabetes and heart disease to ADHD and depression,” Dr. Lem said.

An annual pass to all of the national parks—called a Parks Canada Discovery Pass—costs $57 ($72 CAD) per adult. Right now doctors are being asked to prioritize patients who live near national parks, or who may have trouble affording the pass, when prescribing the Discovery Pass.

For years doctors have discussed the healing qualities of nature, and in 2006 a group of doctors in Albuquerque, New Mexico launched Prescription Trails, the first nature-prescribing program. Other programs launched soon afterward, and in a 2019 Outside story, Betty Sun of the Institute at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy said there were 71 programs of this nature operating in 32 different U.S. states. In the United States the mapping tool ParksRXAmerica.com as a resource for patients and doctors to prescribe the outdoors.